The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts has been pretty insistent that, relative to the rest of the GOP field, Sen. Marco Rubio possesses some foreign policy acumen. I might disagree with him about his policies, but this is a subject that he actually cares about. In previous speeches and conversations, he has demonstrated real knowledge about world politics. Such knowledge doesn’t always translate into good foreign policy, but I’d wager that it’s a necessary condition.
With Rubio rising a bit in the polls, my observation has not gone down well with some other foreign policy observers worried about a reckless Rubio. But now we have another data point to examine: Rubio’s latest National Review essay on U.S. foreign policy toward Russia. It’s an interesting argument, but not perhaps for the reasons Rubio or his critics believe.
The title “Time to Get Tough with Putin, in the Middle East and Elsewhere” would seem to suggest more of the same Rubio uber-hawkishness that I’ve come to expect and his critics have come to despise. And indeed, much of the essay is devoted to Putin’s perfidy in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, coupled with the Obama administration’s fecklessness in response.
But then we get to Rubio’s suggested policy responses — and let’s just pause here to give Rubio some credit for, you know, actually offering a policy response, as opposed to some GOP Candidates Who Shall Not Be Named Even Though It’s So Tempting to Name Them To Boost Traffic.
Okay, back to Rubio’s suggested policy responses in response to Russian bellicosity. I’ve highlighted his suggested policy changes:
[W]e need to recognize that the “reset” has failed and that the U.S. must confront Putin’s assault on international security. The U.S. and the European Union have already imposed some sanctions on Russia, but we need to do much more to bar Russian firms, especially state-owned firms, from Western markets.
The U.S. also needs to help the victims of Russian aggression by providing arms, not just “nonlethal” supplies, to the democratically elected government of Ukraine. And NATO should station more than token forces in member states bordering Russia, because Putin must learn that he cannot get away with doing to the Baltics what he has already done to Ukraine.
We need to make clear to Putin that we do not welcome Russia’s assistance in the fight against ISIS. Russian support for Assad’s slaughter of the Syrian people is only laying the groundwork for more decades of conflict and instability in an already fractured Syria. If Russia does not halt and reverse its military buildup in Syria, the U.S. should sanction the Russian defense companies and the individuals involved. Countries surrounding Syria that enable these actions by allowing Russian military overflights also need to know there will be a price for enabling Putin’s expansionism.
So, basically, Rubio proposes a few more targeted sanctions on Russia, a few more arms to Ukraine, and a few more troops in the Baltics. Seriously, I’m not sure any of this would make a real difference, particularly with the Ukrainian cease-fire apparently holding. It’s not like sanctioning Russian defense companies would actually make a dent in those companies or alter Russian behavior one iota.
To sum up my reaction:
A lot of tough talk from Rubio, but if you look at what he proposes in response it's a big ball of "meh." http://t.co/OF1PYYh9pv
— Daniel Drezner (@dandrezner) September 21, 2015
Now there are a couple of ways to interpret this. If you’re really hawkish, it might sound disappointing, or maybe it sounds like a down payment on more super-hawkery to come.
If you’re concerned about a President Rubio acting too hawkish, however, then … well, this is kind of encouraging. In a campaign where other candidates are proposing all kinds of crazy foreign policy stuff, this is exactly the kind of cheap saber-rattling that sounds good to the untrained ear but probably wouldn’t worsen what are already bad situations in Ukraine and the Middle East.
As someone who usually likes to look on the bright side of life, I’d interpret Rubio’s essay positively. It suggests that he not only knows something about foreign policy, but he’s also savvy to the politics of foreign policy.
And compared to the rest of the GOP field, that’s not nothing.